In Sweden, human rights are primarily protected through three Constitutional laws: the Instrument of Government, the Freedom of the Press Act and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression. Freedom of the press has been protected in the Constitution since the 18th century and this right is one of the oldest in the country.
Protection of human rights is primarily dealt with in the first two chapters of the Instrument of Government. The first chapter establishes that public power should be exercised with respect for the equal worth of all and for the freedom and dignity of the individual. It goes on to state that public authority should especially safeguard the right to work, housing and education and should promote social welfare, security and a good environment for people to live in.
Basic rights and freedoms
The second chapter includes regulations on basic rights and freedoms, such as, for example, positive and negative freedoms of opinion, and physical integrity. The same chapter makes it clear that laws and other regulations may not lead to any citizen being disadvantaged because he/she belongs to a minority, in terms of race, skin colour or ethnic origin. It goes on to state that laws and other regulations may not lead to any citizen being disadvantaged because of his/her gender, unless the regulation is part of attempts to achieve equality between men and women or applies to military service or similar compulsory service. Other statutes of the constitution describe conditions in which encroachments on the right to engage in business are permitted, and legally regulate Sami rights to engage in reindeer husbandry. The right to free basic education in state schools is also protected in the Swedish Constitution.
Restrictions on rights and freedoms
The second chapter of the Instrument of Government also includes regulations on basic rights and freedoms in which restrictions may be permitted, the form for decisions on such restrictions and the general principles that must be observed when imposing a restriction. A restriction must be supported by the law, and may only be imposed to achieve objectives that are acceptable in a democratic society. A restriction may not go beyond the bounds necessary to achieve its purpose or be so extensive that freedom of opinion, one of the fundamental bases of democracy, is threatened. Nor may a restriction be imposed solely because of political, religious, cultural or other beliefs. For specific rights and freedoms, there are further regulations on restrictions.
The rights of aliens
For the most part, aliens have the same status as Swedish citizens, but may be subject to special legislation, as may be seen in the second chapter of the Instrument of Government.
In addition to the Swedish Constitution, many Swedish laws and regulations at other levels are of practical significance for the basic rights and freedoms of the individual. This applies to a number of different laws and regulations involving, for example, health and medical care, the social services, penal care, protection against various forms of discrimination, the educational system and trials of criminal and civil cases.
The European Convention
Since 1995, the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms has been incorporated into Swedish law (SF: 1994:1219). A statute has been included in the Instrument of Government that states that laws and other regulations may not be enacted in contravention of Sweden's commitments under the Convention. Laws enacted before the Convention was incorporated into Swedish legislation must be interpreted in accordance with the Convention and existing practice. Legislation enacted later may not contravene the Convention or existing practice.
The EU sphere of competence
Several issues lying within the sphere of competence of the EU are very closely linked with human rights. This is the case, for example, with asylum and gender equality policies. When legislation originating directly from EU institutions is to be implemented in Sweden, either via directives to be imposed or ordinances to be applied directly, it is important that the human rights perspective is included. This concept is emphasised by the fact that in Nice in December 2000, the European Council proclaimed the statute on fundamental rights, the so-called European Charter on fundamental human rights. The statute is a political declaration.
Sweden has signed and ratified most of the documents involving human rights within the UN, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Council of Europe. Responsibility for ensuring that human rights are not violated rests with the Government, and central government and local administration. However, it is not only the Government's work on improving the promotion and protection of human rights that is important. A number of other actors in society, both public and private, contribute in their work to the promotion and protection of human rights.
The Delegation for Human Rights in Sweden and future systematic work on Human Rights
A delegation is established to support the long-term work to ensure full respect for human rights in Sweden, on the basis of the Government’s written communication A National Action Plan for Human Rights 2006–2009 (Govt. Comm. 2005/06:95). Under its mandate, the Delegation will:
-support government agencies, municipalities and county councils in their work to ensure full respect for human rights in their activities,
-develop and implement strategies to increase information and knowledge about human rights in various target groups in society, partly by coordinating the EU initiative European Year of Equal Opportunities for All and the Council of Europe campaign All Different – All Equal in Sweden,
- stimulate public debate on human rights, and
- present proposals on how to provide continued support to work towards ensuring full respect for human rights in Sweden after the Delegation has completed its mandate.
The Delegation submited a final report on its work (SOU 2010:70) and handed it over to the Government October 2010.
Evaluation of the national action plan for Human Rights and the work forward
The action plan for human rights, and the implementation of the action-plan, have been evaluated by an inquiry. The inquiry presented the results of its remit in April 2011 in the report Coherent, Thought-through and Sustainable, An Evaluation of the Government’s National Action Plan for Human Rights 2006–2009 (SOU 2011:29).
The report was presented after extensive consultation with different actors in society, such as government agencies, municipalities and county councils and civil society organisations. Broadly speaking, it is stated in the report that the work with the human rights action plan of 2006 has been important, and it is recommended that the Government elaborates a third action plan or similar document. However, it is also recommended that the work is strengthened in several respects, both inside the Government offices and in society at large.
One proposal presented in both reports (SOU 2010:70 and 2011:29) is that Sweden should establish a national human rights institution with a broad human rights mandate in accordance with the Paris Principles.
The Swedish Government is planning to elaborate a third national action plan for human rights, and the proposals presented in the two reports are now being considered in that context.
In addition, a base-line study of what deficiencies may exist in the implementation of human rights in Sweden is currently being conducted within the Government Offices. This base-line study is more focused on rights-issues than the two reports mentioned formerly, which mainly dealt with systemic issues. The base-line study takes a starting point in the findings, viewpoints and recommendations of international human rights monitoring bodies, such as the European Court for Human Rights, the UN Human Rights Council and the treaty bodies of the UN and the Council of Europe.
Another important part of the work with the base-line study and the third national human rights action-plan is a consultation process with a broad range of actors, including civil society organisations. This consulation process has commenced in May and will continue with several meetings during the autumn.
The Government’s third action plan or strategy for human rights is planned to be presented to the Parliament in 2012. It is still open which measures are to be included in this document.